Heed the Calling

In Latin the word vocare is a verb meaning “to call” and is the fundamental root of our modern day word “vocation”.  These days a vocation is often used as any term to connote work in a general sense, but it’s important to get back to the old, dusty Latin to bring fresh life to the word.  To me, not everyone’s job is a vocation… although I believe pretty much any job can be.

It’s less about the job itself and more about your own personal feeling and passions towards that career.  In other words… is it your true calling?  The thing that gives you juice and life and purpose?  The thing you cannot imagine NOT doing on a daily basis?  The thing that while the money may be nice (or maybe even not so nice), you do first because it speaks to you on a deeper level first and on a financial level a very distant second.

Today was a day I was privileged to interact with two very cool groups of people at the Gengras Center in West Hartford, CT: the students who go to school there and the teachers for whom their work is their vocation.

Gengras Center The Gengras Center is (as their Web site describes) “a unique, special education program for elementary, middle and high school students with intellectual, developmental, learning disabilities, and related behavioral challenges.”  I was invited over for their Career Day and to talk a little bit about my job.  Now, I was a little anxious leading up to this as I was thinking, “How in the world do I make ‘ethics officer’ sound interesting and keep their attention?”  I opted with the easy solution… free schwag.  Shameless, I know, but gosh darn it, worked like a charm! 

I handed out these squishy stress toy fire trucks (one of the products my company makes) and everyone seemed to love them.  Believe me, I needed it.  There were guys there with Harley-Davidsons and soldiers and the guy from ESPN next to me with the sports highlights and 2 laptops.  I was just the dude in a suit next to a table covered in little foam fire trucks… but thank God for those suckers!

But I ridiculously digress.

I truly enjoyed myself today because of both groups of people I got to spend time with.  First, the kids are fantastic and had enthusiasm and excitement to spend some time talking to me… even if I was not nearly as cool as a soldier in uniform.  The smiles and their eagerness to introduce themselves to me just won me over instantly.  I am very much hoping for an invite back at some point.

And the people working there?  There is something that grabs my attention of seeing someone who is committed to what they do.  It can be completely mesmerizing.  During the moments where I was waiting for the next round of kids to come through, I did my usual people-watching where I observed the staff just going through the regular “stuff” of their day.  I could see many staff members who just beamed when a kid smiled or was polite to one of the Career Day guests or did something well… and as corny as it sounds, it was heart-warming.

And that is a lesson in perspective, my friends.  Those are people who are working one damn challenging job that would leave anyone drained at the end of the day… but those moments that I was privileged enough to witness with them being immersed in what they do and loving it?  It’s inspiring and humbling all at the same time.

So the lesson I took from today is this: regardless of someone’s circumstances or the life they find themselves in, there is always a chance in any given moment for some real happiness (even if fleeting) to be found.  Every single one of those moments, whether long or brief, is completely worth it and is worth taking a moment to savor.

Thanks to everyone today… students and teachers alike… who gave me a chance to savor a few of their own moments.

However

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I’ve noticed a few things over the years.  One or two observations on the human condition.

We, as human beings, are inherently flawed.

We are capable of unspeakable cruelty.

We hurt the ones we love the most.

We can be foolish.

We can be ignorant.

We can be cold and unfeeling.

We can be lazy and uninspired.

We make the same mistakes over and over and over again.

However…

We have a capacity for overwhelming kindness, especially in the face of adversity.

We can love to a depth that humbles the receiver of that affection.

We can be completely thoughtful and considerate.

We can be connected and empathetic and understanding.

We can reach out to others with warmth and peace.

We reach dizzying heights of creativity, innovation and utter brilliance.

We can learn and learn well.

In spite of all the ills we are capable of, I focus on the good we can do.  The human mind, heart and spirit soldier_and_child1241048146

Our flaws serve to make our goodness shine by comparison, like a bright white image against a stark black background… and I believe we do well much more often than we do ill.  That’s my philosophy and what keeps me going every single day.  It’s easy to see the problems every day, but if you think of the simple interactions with most people on most days?  The good is there and I place my focus on that.

It’s why my blog tagline is “Relentlessly push yourself forward”… so that’s what I do… the best I can.

From Whence Shall Come the Quit?

Roberto-Duran-Gives-Up-001In exploring the connection of mind, body and spirit, I am a bit fascinated by the  moment of surrender.  It’s not from a morbid sense of curiosity, but more from the vantage of why does it happen when it happens.  What causes us to stop?  To relent?  To “No mas” a la Roberto Duran?  It can certainly depend on the activity in question.

The genesis of my fascination has nothing to do with obsessing over having given up at some point.  We all end up at that place one way or the other.  I want to figure out why it happens and then get better at pushing past that moment if possible… well, provided it’s an activity I give a damn about.  It’s not like I am going to study like a medieval monk to master the art of eating broken glass or some crazy nonsense like that.

So at the moment where it all comes apart, I want to know why.  An example may be in order:

Think of someone deep in physical training of some kind or another.  Perhaps it’s a powerlifter constantly seeking to move bigger and bigger weights or, at the opposite end of the training spectrum, the marathoner who conditions herself to run for 26.2 freaking miles.  (Umm, as you can tell, I am blown away by long distance runners because I cannot imagine trying to run that damn far).

For either of these individuals, which will usually quit first?  The mind as it obsesses over each pound or each mile?  The spirit as the will to go prove something wanes in the face of greater and greater physical demand?  Or will it simply be the body reaching some point of pure capability when one more pound or one more step is completely impossible?

In these cases, I find it is usually much less about the body and a lot more about some combination of the mind or spirit.  The body can accept an inordinate amount of physical work (for periods of time, mind you) provided the mind sees some value/end goal and the spirit stay strong.  The trick is to keep those things well in mind.

What about a test of the mind?  Does this change the equation at all in terms of the weak link from the body/mind/spirit continuum?  Possibly.  I think of people pulling all-nighters where their only limit is pure physical exhaustion (or running out of caffeinated beverages).  That being said, I am still tend to think mind and spirit may give out before the body.  The all-too-common declaration of “Good God, I think my brain is full…” jumps to mind for me, likely because I have uttered it a few times when deep in study back in law school.

In the end, I think that the greatest bang-for-your-buck in learning to push past previous points of failure is more of a mental and spiritual challenge, even if the activity you are seeking to improve is primarily physical.  Take Michael Jordan – physically gifted? Definitely.  But Michael Jordan did not become MICHAEL JORDAN because of his physical gifts… it was because of an absolutely indomitable will to win.  He was just plain mentally tougher than anyone else on the court.  Period.

And how do you build your will?  Great question.  For myself, I am going to take it in 2 parts since I need work on this as does… ohh… pretty much everyone.  First, pick some activity that is about discipline and work on it.  Second, build up this activity sloooowly.  For instance, I want to be better about developing this blog, so starting next week, I am getting up 30-45 minutes earlier in the morning to write posts, comment on other blogs, do Twitter, etc.  It’s not earth-shattering, but it requires extra discipline and sometimes there is something cool about doing a hard, lonely thing.  You need to do it slowly in order to notch up a few successes along the way.  If you are working on running a marathon, maybe you start doing a few of your runs at the crack of dawn or purposefully at the end of a really long day for the sheer purpose of knowing your mind will rebel mid-way through your run and will begin to rationalize why cutting it short and heading home for “American Idol” is really not that bad because you can run tomorrow.

Pick your hard lonely thing. Tell yourself you just need to push through it ONE time and then do it.  A few days later?  Do it again.  Let the momentum build and the will shall follow.

Be fierce.  Be mighty.  Above all else, just give it a shot so you at least know you didn’t let a chance for something better slide on by.

“Blank” Something Different

In thinking over my previous post on breaking a funk and reclaiming my rightful mojo, I knew some action needed to be taken outside of… well… just writing a post about it.  While writing is certainly a form of action, it’s often more the declaration of desire than the actual exercise of change and movement.  I don’t believe this diminishes the importance of the writing, but it certainly clarifies in the grand scheme of change, improvement and all the other goodies this blog seeks to focus upon.

So what kinds of actions will be on tap for our intrepid blogger?  Well, a few notions (nothing overly radical) designed to break me out of my routine if nothing else.  Why is this important?  I see it basically this way:

If you are in a funk or a rut, you are clearly following a path of well-worn grooves that you’ve created for yourself.  It’s a routine and while it’s clearly not a good routine, it’s likely become comfortable nonetheless.  Therefore, to at least begin that critical process of being released from the funk, change is needed.  It can be a change in venue or perspective or habit, but until action of some kind that is just plain different takes places, you are working from a very difficult spot to free yourself from the rut.

A few short term plans to shake things up:

  1. Move something different.  I plan on making a bit of a resvision to my current exercise/training plan.  I really do enjoy the lifting scheme I use (Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1), but I have been doing it for quite a while now.  I have had great success with it, so instead of scrapping it all together, I am using his brand new 5/3/1 for Football to give myself a shot in the arm.  It’s not going to be a wholesale change in what I do, but then again, I don’t want it to be here because this has at least been going well (God forbid).
  2. See something different.  Sometimes you just need to just pause and take in in some visual inspiration at a museum and it’s been a while since I’ve gone new-britain-museum-of-american-art to a museum to soak up a little art.  It really is one of those things I always enjoy when I do it, but then I never do it often enough and then eventually catch myself think, “Huh… haven’t really been to a museum in a while…”  I always find it funny that I have several activities I really like to do, but then I never do them all that often.  They just seem to slip my mind so effortlessly.  But late Saturday morning will be spent at the New Britain Museum of American Art taking in what they have to offer.  It’s not a museum I have been to before, but I’ve heard excellent things about it.  My hope is that a little exposure to creative works will provide a jolt to my own creative juices.  I plan on having a post all about this experience on Saturday or early Sunday.
  3. Think something different.  In a sense, I will likely get this from #2, but I know that in order make a change, my mental approach needs to vary and adapt.  As I’ve written about before, I sometimes can be someone more-than-a-little leery of change… but I can also feel very invigorated by it.  If it’s self-created change, it tends to feel a little bit better because I can at least give myself that momentary illusion of control in the situation.  But in order to think differently, I might need to vary up my reading list.  This can be magazines, blogs, books and all of that good and wonderful written material the world has to offer… but I need something outside of my comfort zone.  I’m not 100% sure of where that is just yet , so I am open to some good and useful suggestions, i.e. while a book on acetylene welding techniques is certainly different… umm… that might be a little TOO different.
  4. Deal something different.  I’ve also decided I might make a deal with myself as a bit of motivation.  My home computer is seriously on the wane and I’ve been thinking of a replacement.  I’ve got a little money tucked away in some savings and I plan on hanging onto it… but I am also considering picking up a MacBook Pro whenever Apple decides to launch their newest version (which is allegedly soon, but who knows what decisions will be made by High Priest Steve and friends).  The deal would be if I do it, then this blog has to become a daily minimum.  In fact, I am thinking about waking up 45 minutes to an hour earlier each day and trying to use a bit of a morning energy to crank out a post or two.  This may be precisely the change I need, so stay tuned.

Time to stretch a bit out of the comfort zone and see what the end result may be.  Stay tuned for the mayhem to follow.

Re-Mojofication

Mojo.  An absolute fantastic word that is truly difficult to define.  You could go with what our good friends at Merriam-Webster and say it is:

a magic spell, hex, or charm; broadly : magical power <works his mojo on the tennis court>

That’s pretty good… not great, but a fairly solid B on the grading scale of life.

I tend to think of mojo more from the Dr. Evil definition from Austin Powers:

Austin Powers always defeats me because he has mojo… The libido . The life force. The essence. The right stuff . What the French call a certain I-don’t-know-what.

Granted that seems rather vague, but the vagueness is the beauty of it all in the end.  Mojo is the juice that gets you going and excited about life.  It’s passion, but with a bit of a funky twist.

Mojo has been on my mind of late, mostly because I have had a loss of it for a variety of reasons.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not exactly all-world when it comes to dealing with change, but despite that fact, life has given me a bit of it over the last year or so.  Funny how life works like that – you would think it would just listen to my wise counsel on how things would go, but apparently not.  Slowly but surely, I woke up to find myself just not quite feeling it… and that’s really the problem with losing your mojo.  It’s not as if you are struck by a blinding white light like Saul on the road to Damascus, but it’s more of a slow creep that nibbles away bit by bit when you lose your vigilance.

Heck, a prime example of my mojo loss was this very blog that means quite a bit to me.  I had to go back and look at it today to see when my last update occurred… February 28th.  Yeesh.  But I was just not feeling the inspiration or the muse to make this blog happen… so today, I decided “Aww screw this” and sat down to write the words you read this very moment.

But let me be crystal clear in my view of the loss of mojo… it doesn’t happen because of what life does to you.  Not at all.  It happens because of how you respond to what life throws at you.dwight-gooden(2)

For instance, let’s say life went all circa 1985 Doc Gooden on you by throwing you a  major curveball – the kind that no one alive is going to be able to deal with well.  Break-up.  Job loss.  Illness of a loved one.  Those things are certainly going to drop you in your tracks for sure and any of those scenarios takes a lot of time, effort, patience and faith to pull through.  In that sense, no one on earth should expect someone dealing with anything like that to immediately bounce up and say, “Well dagnabbit all!  Life is all about how I respond and not allowing anything to be done to me!  I think I’ll go watch Mary Poppins and whistle a happy tune!”

But at some point in that coping process, it becomes a lot less about whatever happened and all about how you respond to it.  For bigger life changes, that period is longer and you shouldn’t beat yourself up for not bouncing back like a damn superball.  You cannot be low forever.  You cannot mourn for an eternity.  You cannot go all Brian Wilson and lock yourself away in your house for years while wearing a bathrobe as your fashion statement on a daily basis.

Which is why I love this Nike commercial so much:

Because it’s about at least pushing yourself to see how quick you’re gonna get up.

As always, the words I write in this blog do not come from a place where I am sitting idly back and pronouncing forth how I think everyone else should live because I have it all figured out.  I write this because it is equally a challenge to myself to do more, to be better and… in this case… to reclaim my mojo.  I just hope detailing some elements of my own personal fight gives hope or insight or even just a sliver of amusement to those who read this.

So to end it all, I give you the example of Sylvester Stallone.  No, seriously.  While Sly makes for a very easy target these days, it helps to think back to his earliest days before he was a big star.  Why?  Because in spite of everything he faced and all the hurdles in his way, he kept his mojo working against a Fat Bastard world that was seeking to sap it all from him.  Listen as Tony Robbins tells the story of Rocky:

Mojo – use it or lose it, people.  It’s far easier to keep than to reclaim.  I let it slip and now I’m working hard to get it back.

Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war.